Fear, Frugality, and Parenting

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“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

A few weeks ago, there was a kidnapping scare in our area. A student was walking home from school when a person in a car pulled up next to her and asked her if she wanted a ride. The student didn’t know the driver, so she ran away and reported what had happened to a teacher, who then informed the police.

The situation turned out to have an innocent explanation. The car driver actually had two of his daughters in the backseat and those daughters actually recognized the girl as a friend of theirs, so they encouraged their father to give the girl a ride home with them so they could hang out with a friend for a little bit. The girl who was approached was never close enough to the vehicle to see her friends – she just saw an unfamiliar adult asking her for a ride.

Still, the situation is a reminder of one of the realities of being a parent. Kidnappings and other such disturbing events do happen to children.

The response of many parents is to become overprotective. They keep their children indoors as much as possible and give them supervised activities with which to spend their time. (Often, that activity involves television.)

There’s a problem with that, though.

When children are outside and at least a little bit away from supervision, they learn a lot of things. They get the opportunity to explore the world around them a bit. They are forced to make up their own games. They learn how to interact with others.

A few days ago, our children came running in the door with a giant luna moth caterpillar they had discovered. The caterpillar was riding on a stick. The children were amazed at the size and deeply curious about it. While finding it, they had taken up different roles: one child had discovered it, another got up close and inspected it, and a third figured out how to carry it.

They likely would have never found the caterpillar in a supervised and organized situation. They would have never examined it up close. They would have never worked out a plan to bring it to show us.

So often, the children (and their friends) make up games to play in the field behind our house or in our yard or in an adjoining yard. They interact with an ever-changing group of children. They find their own things to explore. They make up their own questions and seek out answers.

When they want to know more, they come running to us. However, we’re not right by them when they invent a new game to play in the grass or gather together cardboard boxes and sticks to make a castle or find a frisbee to toss around.

There’s so much valuable growth going on when we do this.

The other children they can play with are limited. There are many younger kids who live near us whose parents won’t let them outside the door without a parent beside them.

They don’t learn what I consider the most frugal value of all: the ability to come up with something enjoyable or valuable out of whatever you have on hand, with no additional costs. It requires imagination and independence and self-reliance. Those things are extremely difficult to help your children to build if you’re constantly by their side or you don’t give them open environments.

My children know exactly how to handle a situation where someone they don’t know – or even someone they vaguely know – wants my children to follow them. They don’t follow. They come to us instead. They know how to handle other common dangers as well.

I’m not willing to sacrifice their self-reliant growth just so they’re a bit safer.

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